LATINOS HAVE NEVER BEEN more visible or powerful in California and across the country. Politicians are desperate for their votes, advertisers for their dollars. Their effect on popular culture -- from fashion to music -- grows by the day. That's the good news.
The bad news is that although more Latinos than ever are marching up the economic ladder, too many others are falling behind. According to a wide-ranging survey by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, many Latinos are struggling to get by. Researchers found that Latinos have the lowest per-capita income ($12,464) and highest poverty rate (22%) of any race or ethnic group. More than a third of Latino adults (including documented and undocumented immigrants) have no health insurance -- nearly double the general population. Only 40% own their own home.
All of these problems, of course, are vastly complex and shared by Angelenos from all backgrounds. But consider how much the region's future depends on the emerging Latino population. Sometime over the next decade, Latinos are expected to become a majority in Los Angeles County. How can we expect to retain top employers if we don't have a healthy and well-educated workforce? How can we continue to say we are the multicultural model for the rest of the country if we leave our own house in such disorder?
It would be foolish to think simply throwing money at an endless list of social programs will fix the problems facing Latinos (or any other group). But some modest programs could go a long way. A good place to start would be ensuring that all California children get health coverage under the state's Healthy Families and Medi-Cal programs. Nearly 135,000 children in L.A. County, most of them minorities, are eligible but not signed up. On the federal level, expanding the low-income tax credit and passing long-overdue guest-worker reform would also help.
This isn't just about Latinos. It's about all of us, and the health of the city we live in.